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Library Research Guides

Textbook Affordability: Why OER?

OER & Equity

In the article The Impact of Open Educational Resources on Various Student Success Metrics (Intl. Journal of T&L in Higher Ed) from 2018, results indicated that OER adoption does much more than simply save students money and address student debt concerns. OER improved “course grades at greater rates and decrease D/F/W rates at greater rates for Pell recipient students, part-time students, and populations historically underserved by higher education.”

The report Participant Experiences and Financial Impacts: Findings from Year 2 of Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative from October 2018, found that “The share of students who said that OER degrees will have a significant impact on their ability to afford college was higher for Pell Grant recipients and underrepresented minorities. Similarly, the share of students who said they have had to drop a course because they could not afford required materials was higher for minorities, 17% of underrepresented minorities versus 12% for all students.”

CSU Channel Islands’ openCI initiative completed a campus-wide study of over 700 undergraduate students. Statistical analysis revealed textbook prices to be a significant educational barrier for all CSUCI students, with a disproportionately negative effect among racial/ethnic minorities, low-income students, and first-generation college students. Some examples of the findings include: 

  • 4.4% of white students vs 12.3% of Latinx students reported failing a class due to textbook cost.

  • 73.4% Non-First Generation vs 84.3% First Generation reported that they did not buy a textbook at all due to cost.

In 2019 faculty at Sacramento City College completed a research project investigating how OER adoption is related to student success and equity at SCC. Sample Course Success Rates by Ethnicity: Non OER vs. OER Courses included higher student success rates (73%, N=4,501) in classes using OER, compared with sections of the same course that were not using OER (70%, N=12,303). Students from African-American backgrounds had a 61.9% (N=452) success rate in OER courses compared to a 55.5% (N=1,143) success rate in non-OER courses. Students from Native American backgrounds had a 78.9% (N=16) success rate in OER courses, compared to a 41.4% (N=27) success rate in non-OER courses. Students from Pacific Islander backgrounds had a 70.6% (N=63) success rate in OER courses, compared to a 57.0% (N=168) success rate in non-OER courses. Students from White backgrounds had a 77.2% (N=1,116) success rate in OER courses, compared to a 76.7% (N=3,081) success rate in non-OER courses. The student success rate was higher in all groups when OER was used. However, the difference was greater than the average of 3% for several of the disproportionately impacted student groups. A particularly noteworthy example is the African-American group, which showed a positive 6.4% percentage point difference in success when OERs were used.

Cost and access to assigned course materials make a difference for ARCs disproportionately impacted students, and faculty taking the step to reduce cost can have a positive benefit. Using openly licensed, free, course materials allow students to have the materials right away, for the entire duration of the course, and beyond. 

A Review of the Effectiveness & Perceptions of Open Educational Resources As Compared to Textbooks

Textbooks through the library

The Library Can Not Put your ebook on Reserve for Most Traditional Publishers

Despite libraries’ attempts to make copies of selected textbooks and course materials available to assist those students who are unable to purchase their own, the following is a sample of publishers that will not allow libraries to purchase e-textbook versions of their publications: 

  • Pearson 

  • Cengage 

  • Elsevier imprints (especially in veterinary and health science) such as Elsevier Health Science, Mosby, and Saunders

  • McGraw Hill 

  • Most publishers of ‘common reads,’ popular fiction, and popular nonfiction 

  • Thieme 

ALA denounces Amazon, Macmillan in response to Congressional inquiry on competition in digital markets

If my textbook is available on Reserve at the library, does this count as zero-cost?


The ARC Library maintains a large collection of current print textbooks, comprising nearly 2,500 titles. However, even when the library building is open this does not meet the need of all of our students, and there can be competition for reserve items, or students are limited to using the books in the library when open. If the materials are only available in print, and only a few copies are available for check-out in the library, then this is not sufficient access. 


The library does have it's own collection of ebooks that can be used for your courses at no cost to students. Therefore qualifying for the ZTC logo. 

  • Search in OneSearch to find ebooks
  • !Important! - Check user access of ebooks to ensure it is Unlimited User Access 
  • Add the Permalink to the entire ebook or chapters in Canvas, Bookstore, etc. 

Note: Most Library Reserves and resources are NOT OER as the library is purchasing these materials, and they are not openly licensed. 

Why OER and ZTC at ARC?

High textbook costs continue to deter students at ARC from purchasing assigned materials for classes, despite the fact that lack of such materials is injurious to successful completion of the course.  As noted in several national surveys conducted by the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) in 2014 and 2016, students are forced to forego assigned textbooks---which are an essential aid in learning new material, completing assignments, and studying for exams---because they are too expensive, and are knowingly accepting the risk of a lower grade to avoid paying for the textbook. The PIRG also found that students who had foregone purchasing a textbook were concerned that doing so would hurt their grade in a course, and more than half of the students felt significant concern for their grade. Students are not only choosing not to purchase the materials they are assigned by their professor, but they are knowingly accepting the risk of a lower grade to avoid paying for the textbook.

"82% of students felt they would do significantly better in a course if the textbook was available free online and buying a hard copy was optional. This is exactly how open textbooks are designed."
graph showing: 1% somewhat better; 82% significantly better; 17% no better(PIRG, 2014)

"Over the last decade, the price of college textbooks has soared. Since 2006, the cost of a college textbook increased by 73% - over four times the rate of inflation. Today, individual textbooks often cost over $200, sometimes as high as $400" (PIRG, 2016).

graph showing increase in costs from 1978 to 2014: educational books 945%, medical care 604%, new home prices 408%, consumer price index 262%

The new era of the $400 college textbook”  by Mark J. Perry,  July 26, 2015,  AEIdeas

Both recent trends and the analysis of data from the College feeder school districts suggest that the proportion of underrepresented and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups will continue to rise at ARC (ARC Self Evaluation, 2015).